Agnes show sounds good

Art exhibit explores modern day communication and connections

Dierdre Logue’s piece Per Se features the artist filming herself with a webcam and communicating in a way that frustrates and challenges viewers.
Dierdre Logue’s piece Per Se features the artist filming herself with a webcam and communicating in a way that frustrates and challenges viewers.

New technologies are constantly changing modern human interactions not only with each other but with sound. In an increasingly digital age, we communicate using many different technologies on a daily basis. E-mail, MSN, text messaging and phone calls all involve different forms of dialogue that’s honed to be appropriate to the medium which carries the message.

Conversation Pieces displays the work of five contemporary Canadian artists, each using new media to explore issues of communication and sound.

“[The pieces in the show] lay bare the ways in which we forge connections, make meaning and gain understanding,” said Sarah E.K. Smith curator and recent Queen’s BFA graduate.

The opening reception for the show on Sunday afternoon was preceded by a stimulating lecture by Frances Dyso, a professor in technocultural studies at the University of California. Dyson explored tone in conversation as something inherently undefinable occupying a peculiar space between sound and what she calls “the melodies of language.” She raised concerns about artificial intelligence, Internet surveillance and the difficulties of expressing human emotion through technological transmissions.

The exhibition itself is housed in the Etherington House, attached to the gallery, affording each piece a unique domestic setting, some involving viewer interaction. Not only does this give gallery-goers the opportunity to enter the house, which is one of the historic gems of the Queen’s campus; the setting helps make the work more engaging as sound art tends to favour a minimalist aesthetic.

Germaine Koh—a well-established artist and currently the Queen’s BFA visiting artist—has an interactive piece in the show that allows one to pick up a rotary phone that calls random volunteers to engage in spontaneous conversation.

Call creates human interaction that happens in real time and space, existing outside of the gallery. Koh’s work favours real world interactions to those of any kind of virtual or false reality as she said she finds real world interactions sensuous and productive. I tried out Call in the gallery and left a purposefully confusing phone message for the answering machine I got. I hope the next time I visit, someone will pick up and intriguing conversation will ensue.

Matt Rogalsky’s piece, a little bird told me, rearranges the recorded sounds of an impromptu and casual meeting on the White House lawn that occurred after a formal resignation meeting just moments before. The audio track is of a real life conversation between government workers discussing the resignation that was then recorded and circulated on the internet.

Rogalsky filtered the controversial conversation to emphasize the outdoor noises. Rogalisky’s work draws out the background noises and downplays the hard-edged incident that normally would take precedence in order to reexamine how we listen and what we tend to listen to. Linda Duvall’s Lament is a sound installation filling the space of a large room in which one can speak through a microphone along with the dialogue that crosses a screening of shocking and violent news imagery like a car-jacking incident.

Dierdre Logue’s Per Se is an almost irritatingly slowed down video of the artist filming herself with a webcam and communicating slowly through its blurry lens. This explores difficulties with communication not only from the speaker’s end but emphasizes frustration for the viewer waiting and straining to decipher her message. The piece is meant to frustrate and question the methods we use to connect. It’s an issue the whole exhibit strives to explore and speak up about.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Conversation Pieces on Air the one-hour CFRC radio broadcast aired on Monday. The show was intended for radio and involved contemporary audio clips and interviews with six sound artists. This broadcast can be downloaded from

Conversation Pieces is on exhibit at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until Feb. 10.

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